Nyehfully Yours : Thoughts on Undertale

Much has been said about Undertale, to the point where I feel like writing a review of it is slightly redundant for me personally. The game’s massively popular and has been since its release, which lead to its detriment for a time due to the fanbase ranging from “Yeah this game’s something special” to “PLAY THE GAME THE WAY I DEEM TO BE CORRECT OR I’LL KILL YOUR FAMILY”. It also didn’t help that, much like “Inside” it’s a “BEST.GAME.EVER but I can’t tell you why” situation, which gets us nowhere. While my review would go into more detail than that it would end up being quite hyperbolic without being able to delve into the specifics as to what makes the game so good, so instead I’m going to give a brief, non-spoilery rundown on the game, then move on to a more tangential ramble about what I like and why I’m glad I finally got to play it (the recent PS4 release is my first time playing the game). So for now: Undertale is an RPG in the classic style (see above sprites for reference) in which it’s possible (and encouraged) to spare every enemy you encounter. It’s wonderfully written, funny, sad and surprisingly dark at times, the characters are all brilliant, and it’s full of clever touches and really strong meta plot elements that I’ll elaborate on in my spoiler talk. If you’ve never played it I highly recommend doing so, I can’t think of anything else like it.

SPOILERS follow

So I’ve done both a neutral run and follow-up true pacifist run, and I’ve read a fair bit about what happens on a “genocide/no mercy” run, and I’ll start by saying: that’s a master stoke. Killing every enemy you encounter makes it into a completely different game, with new dialogue, slowed-down music, new encounters and a unique final boss (more on him in a minute). It’s a horror game where you’re the monster, and beating the game this way means that unless you find a workaround (which is apparently tricky) you’ll never have a happy ending again. This sounds harsh, but I think it’s a really neat idea; lots of games hype up their “Every choice has consequences” schtick but it only lasts as long as that playthrough. Here, the game punishes you harshly for slaughtering everyone in the world for no reason, and remembers if you kill someone then reload the game to undo it. This is the meta element I mentioned earlier: two characters in the game, villainous flower Flowey and lazy, pun-loving Skeleton Sans know that you the player have the power to save and reset the game. Play a genocide route and the normally benevolent Sans becomes the final boss; powerful, merciless and constantly cheating because you’re an irredeemable piece of shit and he has to stop you. Normally he’s friendly but weary and melancholic over unseen “resets”, but cross the line and he can’t let you the player make the mistake of poisoning your save file forever. Good stuff, even if I have no intention of ever doing that run.

On the lighter side, the game is genuinely hilarious. It’s approach to turn based combat, making friends with/dating NPCs and even incidental dialogue is fantastic. The stand-outs are Papyrus the skeleton, a constantly cheerful, all-loving goofball who loves making spaghetti and creating puzzles and Undyne, head of the Royal guard and “heroine that never gives up”, who believes anime is real, suplexes boulders because she can and becomes best friends with you out of spite. You end up helping her get together with love interest Dr Alphys; endearing, anxiety-stricken anime fangirl who hits pretty close to home. You can hang out with both of them, with results best seen by your own eyes. Non-lethal approaches to fight run the gamut of encounter-specific choices, including things like petting, complimenting, hugging, singing, flexing and acting mysterious, all of which have different effects. Enemy attacks take the form of mini bullethell shooters, and a non-lethal run involves a mixture of those sections and charming your way to pacifist victory. The writing is generally whimsical and silly, but very sharp, and made me laugh out loud surprisingly often.

On the other hand though, it’s genuinely touching, particularly in the case of the royal family of Asgore (the King, who’s a big softy haunted by the terrible things he’s done) Toriel (loveable, lovely goat lady who wants to adopt and look after the child protagonist) and Asriel, the dead prince who just wants to keep resetting the world because he can’t let go of his dead friend, and has a really dark, upsetting backstory you can help deal with by forgiving and comforting him at the end, after a haunting boss fight. I can’t think of another game that made me laugh and cry in equal measure, that was so funny, touchingly sorrowful and that induced such joyful triumph. That it does so without suffering massive tonal problems is even more commendable.

I suppose this has sort of turned into a review, but that genuinely wasn’t my intention. I love Undertale, I’ll never forget Undertale, and now I’ve finally played it I had to at least write something about it. If you’ve never played it, do so, and play it however you want. If you have, leave it be, because those Monsters deserve their freedom.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

 

Netflix The Defenders Review

Hoo boy. So somehow, against all odds (or most, given Danny Rand’s presence) The Defenders is really disappointing. It was billed as a street level Avengers-style team up between Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist facing a new villain played by Sigourney Weaver. What it actually is, is a tired re-tread of elements from Iron Fist and Daredevil Season 2 in a story entirely related to them, into which Jessica and Luke just so happen to stumble. As it turns out Sigourney Weaver’s character Alexandra is yet another big shot in ancient ninja group “The Hand”, she has no development or depth, nothing interesting to say and do and apart from one catalytic action shown in flashback, has no real effect on the plot. If nothing else, the Defenders is a colossal waste of Sigourney Weaver. The Hand have more than outstayed their welcome at this point, and this entire season is dedicated to finishing off the last remnants, as well as newly revived, eeeeeee-ville Elektra, so Matt has something to do. That’s it for story really; Luke and Jessica follow up on their own private investigations which lead them to finding the Hand, the Hand are still evil and really boring at this point, Matt and Danny do the heavy lifting because they’ve had past business with the group.

Speaking of Danny, I now see him from the perspective of people who found him deeply irritating in his own series. I didn’t really mind him there, but given his key role in the plot and the fact that he still gets the shit kicked out of him by almost everyone he fights he’ll be nothing but the weak link going forward. By the virtue of being the Iron Fist he’s earned instant respect from Matt’s mentor Stick (Scott Glenn on top form, stealing every scene he’s in, just as he did in Daredevil) and (SPOILERS) Stick even dies protecting him, in completely unceremonious fashion, thanks for that, Marvel (SPOILERS END) but I can’t shake the feeling that he doesn’t deserve it, because he’s just an annoying prick who means well but comes across as arrogant, and for a “living weapon” gets punched in the face a whole lot. He’s the cause of the team inevitably fighting each other, for stupid, poorly defined reasons that could be solved with a conversation, and it’s one of the few fights in the season that isn’t dull or just really badly shot. Each individual series had its own spin on fights: Daredevil’s were brutal, harsh and nasty, Luke Cage’s were lighthearted and carried out by a kind-hearted tough guy always striving to do good. Jessica Jones’ were scrappy and often had a wildcard element of the attackers being brainwashed civilians, and even though Iron Fists’ fights were generally poor they at least had a nice martial arts focus. Here they’re just a slapped together mess; the fights feel like ones from Daredevil or Iron Fist; faceless goons by the truck load having a martial arts fight, Luke and Jessica punch and/or throw a few people, sometimes there are guns so Luke stands in the way of the bullets. Besides the scene where the four Defenders meet in a Hand-controlled office and battle their way out, the fights are never particualrly interesting, with the odd exception that’s over as soon as it begins.

There are good points, namely a handful of character-focused scenes. Matt and Jessica have solid chemistry, with the former’s surprisingly upbeat attitude letting the latter lower her guard as they work the detective angle. Jess’ scenes alone with Luke, reunited by extraordinary circumstances and trying to maintain some kind of connection are a definite highlight and just point out that the two of them are the best part of the show, and arguably the entire Netflix Marvel line-up. As I mentioned earlier Stick is as good as he’s ever been, all knowledgeable snark, ruthless efficiency and really good blind acting on the part of Scott Glenn. It’s nice to see Sigourney Weaver, and her character being an underdeveloped waste of time is entirely down to the script, not the actor. Without wishing to spoil the ending the only thing of importance The Defenders does by the end of its eight episode run (besides killing and maiming established characters) is further Matt Murdock’s storyline and set up Daredevil season 3; Danny gets some advancement by proxy and Jessica and Luke get a new story to tell. Also as good as Madam Gao has been in previous series, here she’s a toadying, apparently frightened lackey looking for a chance to usurp Alexandra, which is no where near as effective as the sinister puppet mistress she was previously. She does turn it around as the series goes on, but by that point she’s started taking part in fight scenes, and I’m still not sure where I stand on that whole deal.

Overall, The Defenders is a real let-down. Instead of a new story with a new villain all four team members can rally against, it wallows in a Hand-shaped paddling pool full of lukewarm water, half-arsing a Daredevil season 2.5 where he happens to make some new friends. The fight scenes are nothing special, the story is bland and the character development ratio is skewed in favour of the least interesting team member and the one who’s had two seasons dedicated to him already. Not a complete waste of time, but if the solo Iron Fist didn’t exist this would easily be the worst thing Marvel’s put on Netflix.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

 

Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice Review

Hellblade’s had quite a bit of buzz over the last few days for two main reasons; firstly for developer Ninja Theory’s serious, even-handed approach to the subject of mental illness and secondly for the game’s permadeath system, in which too many deaths will wipe your save. Both of these things convinced me to buy the game, which as it turns out is a character-focused affair with a mix of puzzles and combat, and the aforementioned mental illness angle playing a pivotal role in proceedings.

You are Senua, a Celtic Warrior who looks a lot like Leigh Alexander, embarking on a journey to the Norse underworld of Helheim to retrieve the soul of her slain boyfriend Dillion. It’s unclear if his death was the catalyst or merely fuel for the fire, but Senua suffers from severe Psychosis; in broad terms a disconnect from reality that brings hallucinations. It’s actually debatable as to whether her condition is so bad that the whole “Underworld” aspect of her journey is in her head, and there’s evidence for both standpoints, but the most prevalent, concrete symptom is her extensive auditory hallucinations in the form of voices. Far from being a gimmick that pops up now and then, the voices in Senua’s head are as much a character as Senua herself: they comment on pretty much everything, only rarely falling silent, and when the game recommends you wear headphones (as so many with a horror bent do), it does so for good reason. The voices are mocking, sympathetic, encouraging, defeatist, panicky and condescending all at once, and really do feel like an integral part of the game. The actual plot is a singularly focused journey into the depths of Senua’s personal hell; the only other non-enemy characters in the game are people close to her in the past, everything is seen from her perspective and the game takes its time to ruminate on her psyche and experiences. Credit to Melina Juergens, who inbetween the rare examples of Senua having dialogue conveys her character’s emotional state beautifully with facial expressions, often just with her eyes. For the most part the story is solid, but personally I’m not sure about the ending. I won’t spoil it obviously, but I’m not sure how well it suits the tone of everything that preceedes it.

Most of the game is spent walking around sparse, grim locales solving puzzles based almost entirely around perspective, and taking a break now and then to fight Norse goons. The Underworld shown here is unlike your standard fire and brimstone, rivers of blood deal, instead relying on a real-world aesthetic tinged with dread and a sense of unease, permeated with mutilated corpses and driving rain that create a miserable atmosphere. The puzzles are engaging without being taxing, and aside from some legwork don’t take so long to finish as to get boring, but they do stick to a definite theme. Chief among them is searching environments for door-unlocking runes, finding them represented in shadows, structures and bloodstains, a skill apparently unique to Senua. The rest of them are a variation on this theme; line up images, go through portals that change things in the environment, find runes. The combat, though less prevalent, is surprisingly satisfying, and feels like an attempt to punctuate the exploration with violence as an inevitability of both the time and Senua’s journey. Light and heavy attacks, a guard break, parrying and dodging; it’s deeper than I anticipated, frankly, and works really well.

The game does have some issues though. Senua’s supporting cast of Dillion, her father Zynbel and her old friend and mentor figure Druth are all presented in live action. This isn’t inherently an issue, but they often share the screen with Senua (who is performance captured but still rendered in the game’s engine) and it’s really jarring. When they’re limited to voice over and the visuals focus on Senua it works, all other times it’s off-putting. Also as enjoyable as the combat is and decent as the puzzles are, there isn’t much variety, and you will be doing what I described in the previous paragraph for the whole game, with a few exceptions. There’s also the ending I mentioned earlier, which I’m still debating over in my head.

Issues aside, Hellblade is a success; Ninja Theory’s approach to Psychosis, as manifested in the character they’ve created and portrayed by the actors playing her and the voices in her head are all worth giving the game a go. It’s on the PSN store for twenty five quid, which certainly sweetens the deal, and the rest of the game is enjoyable enough to make the story worth sticking with until the end. It’s also a victory for a reasoned, well-researched take on mental health and mental illness; as detailed in the making of included with the game Ninja Theory consulted with experts in the field of psychiatry and actual psychosis suffers, an approach which is both applaudable and entirely necessary in the industry.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

Nier Automata Review in Progress

So I’ve been playing Nier Automata, and was getting ready to review it. I’ve heard that playing it through more than once adds to the story, but it didn’t really bother me in regard to writing the review, but things have changed. A guide I very briefly consulted informed me that in order to get the full story you need to beat the game three times; second playthrough is as the main character’s partner, third playthrough is as an apparently important character who turned up halfway through for a boss fight and hasn’t been seen since. Given the quite drastic change in perspectives in the playthroughs, my interest in the plot hampered somewhat by how vague it can be and the promise of actual answers, I’m going to finish it three times before I review it. I do, however, have other things to review at the same time, and so I’m pushing Nier back for a while. I’ve got Persona 5 and Yakuza Kiwami coming up, as well as the PS4 version of Undertale, which I’d at least like to give some thoughts on given how long I’ve managed to avoid spoilers while really wanting to play it. Nier is coming though, I will get to it in good time.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

Berserk and the Band of the Hawk Review

First off, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk is a stupid title that makes no sense. There is no character, place or item in the story called Berserk, and in Japan it’s called Berserk Musou, marking it as an installment in the Dynasty Warriors series. Odd title aside, the game is a surprisingly faithful (with the exceptions of some cut arcs and characters) adaptation of a pretty massive chunk of the original manga draped over the framework of Dynasty Warriors, which is to say large, sparse environments filled with hordes of enemies that are easily cutdown by the literal hundreds. The story is told primarily through optional dialogue sections accessed between missions, dialogue thrown in over the top of fights and, for the duration of the Golden Age arc, scenes from the trilogy of film adaptations. Despite how this might sound, the game does a solid job of adapting the story of the manga; apart from the aforementioned cuts (characters not absolutely essential to Guts and his journey, and unfortunately the Lost Children Arc) it fits in a whole lot in surprising detail; the Golden Age, the Snake Baron and the Count, Mozgus, The Berserker armour among other things; even the Eclipse gets a level. The game has a fair bit of filler in the form of short levels populated entirely with non-description enemies but personally I think they work well for reasons I’ll elaborate on later, and there’s enough gold here to even it out. If you know the story this is a good adaptation of it, if you’re new to Berserk then there’s enough here told well enough for you to get something out of it, and hopefully make you read the manga. For those who haven’t; the story revolves around Guts, a young man who’s had a horrible life but adjusts to it by being the baddest man on the planet.

Gameplay wise it’s all murdering hordes all the time. Soldiers during the Golden Age, assorted monsters, spirits and apostles during every arc post-Golden Age. It’s your classic combination of light and heavy attacks- ending a series of lights with a heavy to make combos, a dodge move that’s only necessary for bosses, and an assortment of sub weapons. The canon and little hedgehog bombs are effective, the repeating crossbow has been severely nerfed in its transition from page to screen. There are other characters available, but the most effective ones are much of a muchness, and the most unique among them, Schierke, isn’t suited to mowing down hordes like the others are. Hordes is almost an understatement- you kill hundred and hundreds of enemies in every level, often breaching a thousand. Personally however, I never had a problem with it for two main reasons; firstly I always had fun playing as Guts, cutting people down with the Dragonslayer and secondly constantly having to swing your sword suits the tone of the story. During the Golden Age you’re the Hundred Man Slayer, wading into a Hundred Years War to mow people down. After the Eclipse you’re the Branded Black Swordsman, constantly hounded by insatiable spirits and demons; levels will often be interrupted by night descending and bringing monsters along with it. Things go a step further when you obtain the Berserker Armour, using “Frenzy Mode” (normally giving you increased strength, speed an a super move) to give yourself over to the Beast of Darkness and turning Guts into the world’s angriest, most lethal tornado. The only real complaint I have is that on normal difficulty the game is almost trivial in terms of actual difficulty. With the exception of the two levels dedicated to fighting Nosferatu Zodd every fight is a breeze; normal enemies can’t tough you, and a combination of frenzy mode, equippable gear that boosts stats and levelling up practically once every level mean that bosses are more of a speed bump than anything else. This wasn’t a problem for me, but I can see it maybe rubbing some people the wrong way; you can increase the difficulty, but I haven’t tried that yet. The game actually suggests you select easy right at the start, I can’t imagine what that’d be like.

There is one point with a co-ordinated increase in difficulty and decrease in quality however, and that’s a shoehorned in boss fight with Femto. Given the use of film scenes there’s really need for this fight to exist, and the actual battle is a frustrating slog in which Femto slows your movement and whenever you get close he knocks you back with hard to dodge tornadoes. It’s remarkable in how much worse than the rest of the game it is. Apart from that the game’s of a consistent level of quality, though that’s largely due to its one style of gameplay from which it never deviates.

Overall I had a really good time with Berserk and the Band of the Hawk: it’s a very simple, repetitive experience, but it commits to being an adaptation of a manga I adore, and let me spend hours playing as Guts, fighting monsters from the manga and reliving a large part of the story. Whether or not you’ll get a kick out of it depends on how much you like Berserk and/or the Dynasty Warriors style of gameplay, but personally I enjoyed it a lot,mane I recommend it.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

 

Netflix Castlevania Season 1 Review

Castlevania seemed ripe for an anime adaptation, now I think about it. The games are basically an excuse to take all manner of cool, inventive monsters (some of them from other sources), stick them in an intricate castle owned by Dracula and have a lone hero turn up to kill them all. Stick a decent story into the pot and you’d get a decent adaptation, I’d say. Well Netflix did just that, and I’ve got a few thoughts on it. I’ve not got a whole lot of experience with the series- I’m a big Symphony of the Night fan (which fortunately had a lot of influence on this adaptation), I’ve played a fair bit of the original and bits of certain other games, but I really like the idea of the series as a whole.

This season is really short; four episodes at about twenty five minutes a piece, with eight more coming next. It’s written by Warren Ellis, an excellent writer known primarily for comics, his best work being Transmetropolitan (which I highly recommend to anyone who’s not read it). His work has a rather dark but quite silly, witty sense of humour with an emphasis on language and reactions, which is quite prevalent here. Anyway the season involves Dracula becoming enamoured with and marrying a human scientist named Lisa, then unleashing an army of demons on Walachia after a bishop burns Lisa at the stake as a witch. If this overlap seems overly brief, it’s actually moving at about the same pace as the show itself. Fortunately Trevor Belmont (here reimagined as a sort of alcoholic Joseph Joestar type reticent to get involved, to begin with) has wound up in the last town left standing, which also happens to contain a powerful sorceress named Sypha and Alucard; Dracula’s badass pretty boy son who’s determined to stop his father, as he was back when he was the protagonist of Symphony of the Night. That’s it, really. It’s very much an introduction to the events that will presumably be explored in season 2; here are the major players, the church is shit, let’s go batter Dracula. It’s a promise of things to come, almost like a proof of concept, though of much higher quality than that would imply. It looks bloody lovely, it’s well written for the most part (bits of it are somewhat awkward, not helped by how quickly the show moves) and it’s really violent and gory for some reason, to the point that it briefly reminded me of Berserk. The most interesting thing it does is showcase something rarely seen in the games; the effects felt by the towns and their people when Castlevania appears. You see them trying to get on with their lives, losing their friends and family and looking for anyone or anything to blame. A lot of time is spent showing the cost felt by everyone who isn’t a cool vampire hunter, and it works well.

The characters are all well introduced, though again it’s clear this is very much of an introduction; Trevor has an actual character arc to get him from apathetic drunk to badass, SIRRIASS monster hunter ready to eventually face Dracula. Everyone else just has the beginnings of an arc; Alucard, for example, only turns up for the last five minutes (though he leaves quite the mark. I particualrly like when he completely no-sells Trevor kneeing him in the bollocks and retorts “This isn’t a bar fight. Have some class”), and Sypha only becomes a main character at the start of the third act. As set-ups go, this is a good one, that makes me really want to see season 2, but as a stand-alone season it doesn’t hold up so well. It’s not bad, it’s just in such a rush and clearly wants to establish things that’ll be important later that it can make things seem a bit sparse; the first episode in particular is just “Drac loves, Drac’s mad, people die, here’s Trev”. There’s not much else to say really, without picking apart the entire hundred minutes currently available, but I can’t deny that I did enjoy it. It does need to deliver on its promises though; the only variety in the monsters comes with one energy-beam shooting cyclops (everything else is just a demon, and their one bigger demon mate); Dracula’s Castle needs to have some variety when the protagonists breach its doors. With more room to breathe I think this could be really good; what’s on show here is good, it’s just that its primary function is being a promise of things to come.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

Mass Effect Andromeda Review

I feel like I never really mention it (both on here and in my personal life), but I love Mass Effect. I’m generally not into sci-fi, but Mass Effect’s formula of taking interesting Alien Races with their own cultures, quirks and striking appearances, sticking them together on a space ship with a badass create-a-character and chucking said spaceship at a do-or-die space adventure really works for me. I also really like its moral choice system, which instead of a black and white “Good or Evil” approach breaks things down into “Nice, pleasant and noble or direct, aggressive but still generally doing something beneficial” choices. “Andromeda” is a genuinely quite smart attempt by Bioware to have their cake and eat it; it’s more Mass Effect, but in a whole new galaxy and with an entirely new cast of characters- a sequel, but also not a sequel at the same time. So far the game’s taken a fair bit of flack, largely for its facial expressions, which weren’t a problem at all for me, though apparently the game has been patched multiple times since its release. Anyway I finally bought it in a sale and now I’m going to talk about it, alright? ALRIGHT? Ahem.

Unlike the more direct “Stop-the-bad-people” missions in the original trilogy, Andromeda’s story is, for the most part at least, a lot larger in scope and more general. You are one of a pair of twins surnamed “Ryder”, who after the death of the previous person to hold the position becomes the Human Pathfinder; one person per species tasked with leading their people to designated “Golden Worlds” in this new galaxy they’ve travelled to. It’s a one way trip from the Milky Way to Andromeda and it goes as wrong as it can, essentially; the Human ark is the only one that turns up, but with a new, inexperienced Pathfinder, there was a mutiny on the new version of the Citadel, the Golden Worlds are a bust and there’s a hostile alien race that’s really into growing their ranks by physically converting other species. All of this is basically just a set-up for Ryder and her (I picked the sister) crew to fly around going on cool space adventures and shooting wave-after-wave of the aforementioned hostile alien race, called The Kett. The USP this time around is terraforming planets to establish outposts, which is easily the weakest part of the game, but I’ll get to that shortly, as it’s more of a gameplay issue. The story itself works quite well; the idea that Ryder is the most important person in the game is largely down to a series of unfortunate events (not that one) beyond anyone’s control- it makes sense in the setting. The over-arching narrative of finding a new home is a hopeful one, and finds a solid anchor when the other new alien race are introduced: The Angara. The Angara have been fighting the Kett for a long time, and smartly, the Andromeda Initiative’s primary interaction with them is peaceful contact and a mutually beneficial relationship. They’re quite interesting; somewhat spiritual, heavily dependent on resistance fighters and, as a rule, open with all their emotions. Ryder and her crew are the stand-out characters, and I genuinely love them to the point that, while I can’t say with any certainty that they’re better than the cast of the Normandy, I certainly like them equally. Of particular note are Peebee- an Asari expert on Remnant Tech (a race of robots fought a lot throughout the game) who’s bubbly and up for a laugh but also awkward and vulnerable, Drack- a 1500 year old Krogan who realises the mistakes made by his people and acts as a surprisingly caring team Dad, and Vetra, who is the best. Vetra’s the team Turian, who instead of receiving the stiff, military upbringing standard for Turians grew up rough looking after her younger sister and lived as a smuggler before the events of the game. She’s crafty and good in a scrap, and also caring, personable and has a very pleasant demeanour and sense of humour, which is all conveyed wonderfully by her voice actor Danielle Rayne. Ryder herself bares similarities to Commander Shepard, though lacks her edge to an extent, and is more prone to taking an emotional, softer approach. The writing and tone are generally lighter with a lot more humour, and in my opinion at least, it really works.

The gameplay, however, is where the problems arise. Mass Effect has always had its gameplay sections be a whole lot of cover based shooting, and Andromeda is no exception. There are new additions like a jet pack that lets you dodge and jump really high, but for the most part it’s blowing away Kett and Remnant. The biggest issues (despite it being very samey and a tad boring) are bad checkpoints and the design of certain fights, namely tank-y enemies like massive armoured alien beasts and mech suits. The worst though, is a certain rank within the Kett forces equipped with a small orb that hovers and circles him, generating an impenetrable shield. The orb has more health than most enemies, and once you’ve destroyed it you have seconds to damage its owner as much as you can before it regenerates. This is not fun, and every time they appear marks the point the fight you’re in becomes a slog. Terraforming planets involves doing Sudoku (but with symbols instead of numbers), which gets harder as it goes on by throwing in new rules, before sending you into the same dungeons to kill the same enemies and then run away from a purple death cloud. Sudoku was shit when it was a thing, it’s shit now, and it has no place in a game about exciting space adventures. The latter steps are less irritating but still a problem: I never had fun activating monoliths and vaults to terraform planets. I still haven’t terraformed them all, because the sudoku minigame is that bad. The best part of the game is still the dialogue and relationships with other characters, particualrly your crew, but things have been tweaked there. Each dialogue option now has an emotional state linked to it, but in practice that doesn’t matter because you can tell what you’re going to say at least reasonably accurately by reading the brief preview accompanying each choice. There are no Paragon and Renegade options now, but the game still has a few cutscene interrupts now and then. These are no longer linked to any broad emotional state or “moral” choice, and are more like the game wanting a physical option in dialogue, like how Telltale games work, but wouldn’t include one. Personally I don’t think the lack of a Paragon and Renegade system makes much of a difference, but it does lessen the drama in conversations somewhat; you can’t shut people down like Shepard could.

Overall I had a good time with Mass Effect Andromeda. The gameplay can be a slog sometimes but for the most part it’s solid, the story held my interest and Ryder and her crew are a cast of characters I really like and won’t forget. Having the new Mass Effect be completely separate to Shepard’s story was a smart move, and I’d love to see a sequel explore this new galaxy further, should Bioware get around to it. Here’s hoping.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

In For the Long Haul: Preacher Season 2

Preacher was a rather formative comic for me. When I first properly got into comics at a young, impressionable age I dove head-first into the darker end of the spectrum; specifically Preacher, The Boys and Hellblazer, as well as the Punisher and The Walking Dead. When the first season of the Preacher TV series was announced it looked like a waste of time to me; a generic, southern crime drama about a priest who’s really good at battering people and his misadventures in a town that shows up in the comic for all of five minutes before being wiped off the map. Fortunately that was just what the trailer showed off, and the actual series was a smart, fun, surprisingly goofy take on characters established in the comic. The town ended up destroyed anyway, after an entire season of solid character development, violence and surprising amounts of screwball comedy. Combined with the main trio of Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy being generally more well-rounded and likeable, I actually ended up preferring this adaptation to its source material, something very rare indeed. Now we’re onto Season 2, and I’ve already taken up enough time so I’ll keep my recap of Season 1 brief: Jesse Custer is a preacher with the ability to make people do what he says, after being possessed by a being called “Genesis”. His girlfriend Tulip O’Hare is an assassin and their Irish mate Cassidy is a vampire. They’re trying to find God, who’s supposedly walking the Earth.

Episode 1: On the Road

“THE SEARCH FOR GOD: DAY ONE”

Off to a good start with the previous season’s same wacky approach to violence: an excellent set piece in which Jesse, Tulip and a host of deputies (after Jesse uses Genesis to mess them about) trying not to be killed by The Saint of Killers (“The Cowboy” from season 1), firing lethal, accurate shots from a mile down the road. Meanwhile Cass is handcuffed and trying desperately to avoid any contact with the sun, at one point having to scooch forward to stay under a slowly moving car and using a dead cop’s head as a brake. One thing worth pointing out at this point is that the Saint’s powers are rather different to his comic counterpart; in the books he literally can’t miss, but he can here. His guns never miss, always kill (except for one scene that has different interpretations) and never run out of bullets. Anyway it’s nice to see him out and about, doing what he does best; being intimidating and shooting fools. The bulk of the episode is seeking and acting on the advice of Jesse’s old family friend Mike, another preacher who keeps young people locked in covered cages in order to “cure them of their urges”. This starts off looking pretty bad, as I’m sure you can imagine, (presumably a reference to Cassidy’s mate in the comics who turns out to be a serial killer), but turns out to be surprisingly innocent, as the woman in said cage is up for the whole thing. There’s a nice reference to Jesse’s backstory from the comics in Mike’s house, as a small chest in a fish tank behind Jesse ominously opens as he discusses his Mother’s side of the family. Given the changes they’ve already made to his origin story I figured they’d skip what this is a reference to, but I’m all for it being included, and it’s a cool moment even if it isn’t paid off. It ends with the confirmation that Jesse and friends are “On God’s trail”, and the shock reveal that Genesis does not work on The Saint which is, again, a departure from the comic, where Jesse got him once but The Saint learned to adapt, and threatened Jesse with a quick-draw death should he ever attempt it again. Overall a good episode; it knows how to use its well-developed characters, where to implement its own spin on events and when to directly adapt elements of the comic. I’m glad it’s doing its own thing for the most part- I still prefer this version to the comic, and I’m really invested as to where it goes next.

P.S, The episode features a somber, touching tribute to the comic’s illustrator (and my favourite comic artist of all time) Steve Dillon, who died last year. “For Steve”. It’s lovely.

Epiosde 2: Mumbai Sky Tower

Turns out that not only is The Saint completely immune to The Word of God (Genesis’ power), he uses it to track Jesse. I’m really enjoying Graham McTavish’s portrayal of The Saint; less grumpy, sick-of-your-shit old Gunslinger and more nightmarish force of nature. The tweaks to his backstory in the last season, his own personal Hell and his harrowing motif really sell this, and I look forward to seeing how he’s used as the series goes on. The bulk of the episode involves “The Amazing Ganesh” teased at the end of episode 1, who turns out to be the Angel Fiore; using his powers of almost immediate resurrection as a gory lounge act in the titular Mumbai Sky Tower hotel. He hired The Saint, and refuses to call him off, something Cassidy attempts to remedy by getting him completely of his tits and hanging out with him for exactly two hours and forty five minutes. Elsewhere there’s a nice mini-fight involving Tulip and an opponent with one hand wrapped around her throat and the other holding a phone in the air in an attempt to get a signal, a man who nearly gets the trio killed because a vending machine gave him the wrong drink, and a surprisingly touching ending to both the episode and Fiore’s story arc. Another good episode, this; some lovely shots, the standouts being Jesse talking to Fiore via a mirror, with it framed as them facing each other, and Jesse drinking and smoking with a lounge singer-turned Fiore’s assistant, bathed in blue light in a bar. The show handles serious moments well, and balances them with its screwball approach to otherwise horrifying violence and gore in a way that both works surprisingly well, and feels unique. Of the live action shows I’m watching at the minute it’s easily my favourite, and I look forward to the next episode, as Jesse, Tulip and Cass head to New Orleans.

Episode 3: Damsels

Some interesting stuff here, both new for the series and adapted from the comic. First of all comes the genuinely surprising revelation that Eugene did not shoot Tracy after she rejected him; after talking her out of committing suicide and then kissing her, Tracy rejected Eugene and then shot herself. Eugene, panicking (in darkly comedic fashion, naturally), eventually decides the best way out of the awkward situation he’s in is to follow suit with the other barrel. He’s now re-living this constantly in Hell, much like The Saint re-lived his slaughter of Ratwater’s citizens. Also Hitler’s there, because of course he is. Back in the A plot, Jesse and friends are in New Orleans, which I’m really into as a setting after “Mafia 3”, so this was a good episode for me, even though it didn’t really lean into the setting as much as I would have liked. Most of the episode involves Jesse on a city-wide pub crawl, asking bartenders if they’ve seen God and drinking whiskey when they inevitably think he’s mad. Cassidy and Tulip don’t really have anything to do; they go to ground in a massive house owned by Cass’ supposed mate (who I thought might end up being his serial killer friend from the comic, but I’m not sure), with Tulip leaving by herself and being caught by her angry old boss Victor. This had to happen really, given how its foreshadowing has made up her entire character since the end of he last episode. Jesse gets to do all the good stuff: there’s another nice little reference to his horrible backstory (which I’m now convinced is going to make its way into this adaptation), he gets a nice action scene, and his story arc is largely just there to introduce The Grail; the super-secret religious organisation from the comics. Agents Featherstone (here reimagined as having spy skills used to snare Jesse with something of a honeypot operation) and Hoover make an appearance, as does Herr Starr (only briefly, and with no dialogue). I’m glad they’re introducing The Grail now, and I’m interested to see what they do with Starr, who was mainly a villain in the comics but had his own agenda and suffered a series-long spate of unfortunate “mishaps”. Overall a good episode, with Jesse’s side of the story being strong and setting up important plot points, but Tulip and Cassidy’s scenes didn’t really go anywhere, and I would have liked to see more of New Orleans. Having said that, there’s nothing that makes me think the series is going to change location anytime soon, and I really hope it doesn’t.

Episode 4: Viktor

In which Hitler is the most reasonable, pleasant person in the room, and giving him a good kicking is seen as the wrong thing to do. Didn’t see that one coming, let me tell you. After his brief appearance last episode I expected Hitler to be an antagonist (which seems obvious but given the state of the Internet these days, maybe not), but he turns out to be at least seemingly remorseful over his actions and genuinely kind and helpful to Eugene. I like the series’ portrayal of Hell as a grey, drab prison in which everyone is locked in a room with their own worst memory, and I like having Hitler as the one nice inmate Eugene has to beat up to ingratiate himself, because that’s pretty goddamn bold if nothing else. I’m interested to see where that goes actually, though I don’t need many scenes in Hell, as I feel it would diminish its impact, and really this is Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy’s story. Most of the episode is Tulip wandering ex-boss Viktor’s house having been captured by his goons, checking in on people who now all hate her for her apparent past betrayal. Presumably she’s primarily scouting guard locations and numbers, but that doesn’t go anywhere because she gets kidnapped, by neutralising three attackers and then stopping to strangle one instead of, y’know, keeping an eye on the open door behind her. Best part of the episode is Jesse finally learning (when Cassidy caves in and tells him) where Tulip is and stomping around Viktor’s mansion like her angry Dad, commanding people to sit down and not move before ending up in the silliest fight this season. Upon stumbling into the workroom of Viktor’s in-house torturer, Jesse has to fight off said torturer, who’s blasting “Uptown Girl” through a pair of headphones and is therefore immune to The Word; a fight around a strung-up corpse involving a fire hose, sledgehammer, a table football pole (with players attached) and even one of the corpse’s arms. Two big plot points revealed this episode; firstly, Viktor is Tulip’s husband, though this is revealed right at the end and so will presumably be elaborated upon next week. Second and most importantly: the “Fake God” from the end of season 1 is a local actor who, on his audition tape, gets the part and is promptly shot so he’ll go to heaven. My money’s on The Grail, who are now surveilling Jesse. Overall a solid episode, though not as good as the previous three. I do like this adaptation’s twist of The Word informing The Saint of Jesse’s location, and Jesse having to use it sparingly, which stops him being too powerful. I also really like how he doesn’t use it all episode until the end when he’s so angry he uses it several times in a row. This is how an adaptation should be- the same main characters and general plot but with its own spin on the source material, taking it in new and interesting directions, with characters and scenes new to this version. Good stuff.

Episode 5: Dallas

Interesting twist on Jesse and Tulip’s backstory in this episode. In the comics their relationship was going really well, only for Jesse to disappear due to a third party beyond his control. Here Jesse and Tulip are stuck in normal jobs, having quit their life of crime, and the daily grind wears them down. By “Daily Grind” I mean drinking, watching John Wayne flicks and desperately trying to get Tulip pregnant. This, combined with the revelation that she’s gone back to crime results in a violent outburst from Jesse (beating up his harmless pothead room mate) and triggers him becoming a preacher. Given the hints at Jesse’s more traumatic backstory from the comics I’m surprised they took things in a more mundane direction like this, but it works really well for this adaptation. I like how they’ve made Jesse more fallible, playing up his immense dark side that he’s not fully in control of instead of him being a cardboard cut-out of John Wayne. The show has a nice line in human drama, mixing it in with all the violent slapstick and jokes surprisingly well. The framing device for the episode is a little weak, admittedly; Jesse has Viktor strung up in the torture room but he’s clearly not going to kill him. If it isn’t obvious from the start it will be after the several-hour time jump when Viktor hasn’t been so much as nicked. It does, however, tie into the idea of Jesse’s immense anger issues and aforementioned dark side, and there’s a nice moment between him and Cassidy, so I’ll let it slide. Overall a solid episode; the character stuff with Tulip and Jesse is wisely put in focus, and the ending cliffhanger promises something of a shake-up next episode, and the shows the inevitable consequence of Jesse’s overuse of The Word on Viktor’s goons.

Episode 6: Sokoasha

This is a big one, both for the series and as an adaptation of the comic. First of all, people in this universe are able to transplant souls, either wholly or in part; this is new for this version, and quite smartly handled. Whereas it started off as a more spiritual, voodoo-based system it’s now been taken over and modernised by the Japanese, who buy and sell them via armoured car. It’s this soul trade which causes two major plot points; firstly Jesse refers to himself as Jesse L’Angelle; his Mother’s maiden name and another link to the tortured past I’ve mentioned previously. Secondly, by giving the Saint of Killers a small portion of his own soul, Jesse is able to use Genesis on him, which results in him disarming the Saint and trapping him in the aforementioned armoured car at the bottom of a swamp. This is quite a departure from the comic, in which Jesse and the Saint formed a fragile alliance based on a mutual grudge and did at least try to help each other. Here Jesse sees his chance and pulls on over on the Saint, which I look forward to seeing the repercussions of, even if the Saint now is now at something of a disadvantage. I liked the montage of Jesse, Tulip and Cassidy researching the Saint, who it turns out has a wealth of books written about him, including a trashy romance novel and the actual Preacher comic. I like the shifting dynamic between Jesse and the Saint, with the latter getting some solid character development as his backstory is explored. The reveal that Cass’ “mate” Dennis is actually his son was really weak, came out of nowhere and didn’t really go anywhere, but that was the only real weak link. Good episode, looking forward to where it goes from here; the trailer shown at SDCC promised a whole lot of Herr Starr.

Episode 7: Pig

“Like a ten-inch dick; I would need to see it, to believe it.” Herr Starr finally gets a proper introduction and it’s glorious. While out on a mission to deal with a flying pig being worshipped in Vietnam, flashbacks show him working through the Grail’s training program in a rather unconventional manner. His method of seducing a microfiche out of a female agent is to threaten the lives of herself and her family, his comic counterpart shooting his hand-to-hand combat instructor (“I never intend to be unarmed”) is replaced with Starr masturbating as a distraction before knocking the shit out of him, and a final firearms test is passed by shooting the other candidate in the head. They’ve nailed Herr Starr right out the gate, between his ruthless approach to anything he considers an obstacle to his odd references to sexual deviancy made amusing by his deadpan tone. He likens the frightened masses during the rapture as being “On their knees begging for direction like the ugly girl at a gangbang”, he kills his boss literally seconds after being assigned a position and treats having his bollocks hooked up to a battery as a pleasant distraction. He’s had about twenty minutes total screen time and he’s already the ideal villain for this adaptation, and I can’t wait to see what else they do with him. The reference to Christ being alive and well in a top secret location hints at Allfather D’Aronique and the more fantastic elements of the Grail, but for now it’s Starr’s show. Elsewhere everything was rather low key: Tulip was the stand-out, dealing with Saint of Killers-based PTSD while Jesse didn’t really do much. Cassidy’s continued dealings with his Son Dennis continue to be the weak link; they have no real weight or impact, and don’t get nearly enough time or development to remedy that. I understand they want to hint at the darker elements of Cass’ past from the comics and do the whole “Being a Vampire’s actually a bit shit when you think about it” angle, but so far it’s not working.

Episode 8: Holes

Wayyy they used Cass’ first name; Proinsias. Points for having him use it in conversation with an old friend, and nor him revealing it to Jesse or Tulip. Slow episode this, with mixed results. The stuff with Cass, his dying Son and the whole “Being a Vampire is shite” angle still isn’t working for me at all. Joseph Gilgun’s doing his best, and he has a nice reflective discussion with Tulip but despite his best efforts it’s just not landing. It’s not a problem with his character, mind, just this one aspect and story arc. A fair bit of time was spent on Hell this episode, with the key scene being a look at the previously mentioned “The Hole” as Eugene is thrown into it, and experiences a different, arguably worse (depending on your view point) version of his personal hell. I’m glad they only check in on Hell now and then, because it’s easily the least interesting aspect of the show, but I don’t mind it in short bursts. Elsewhere Jesse took the God audition DVD to a pair of self-styled tech nerds, in the hope of finding a serial number on the gun used to kill “God”. It didn’t really go anywhere, the only thing of real importance being dramatic irony; as the DVD is being shredded the camera lingers on the words “Property of Grail Industries”, an adaptation-specific front for The Grail. Speaking of The Grail, they tie in to Tulip’s story, which is currently the best character focused aspect of the show. As part of her slow adaptation/recovery to/from the PTSD she’s experiencing after the whole Saint of Killers debacle she wanders from apartment to blood-soaked apartment patching up the holes left by the Saint’s bullet. The last apartment just so happens to house agents Featherstone and Hoover, who have set up cameras in Dennis’ apartment to spy on Jesse and friends. I like what they’ve done with Featherstone, continuing the whole “Mistress of disguise” angle from her introductory episode. Her meeting and (as far as the latter knows) striking up a friendship with Tulip gives her an in, which I look forward to seeing exploited once Herr Starr turns up.

Episode 9: Puzzle Piece

I’d just like to take the time to mourn the loss of Bob Glover, whose mighty war cry of “IT’S BUGGERIN’ TIME” looks like it won’t be in this series, with both it and its creator lost in adaptation. Herr Starr’s mix-up with sex workers now involves three random dudes, and he takes the whole thing surprisingly well, I must say. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Denis (I’ve become aware that it only has one n) is a vampire now, to mixed results. On the one hand, his inexperience with vampirism and new found sense of joie de vivre will (and briefly do) cause issues with Jesse’s more serious plan to find out who the Grail are. On the other hand, Denis does absolutely nothing for me as a character, and the issues he causes aren’t particualrly entertaining: he kills the last surviving member of a Grail strike team before Jesse can interrogate him, and plays Edith Piaf at high volume when the trio are waiting for a follow-up attack the next night. Said attacks are the main set-pieces this episode; the strike team getting savaged (briefly, because his super strength is tenuous at best) by Cass before stumbling upon Jesse who ends the whole thing with Genesis, and the tension laced with multiple bait and switches later on both hit their mark. The stuff with The Grail is still excellent; Herr Starr works as a creepy, irreverent villain grown bored of extensive power and influence and Featherstone and Hoover’s dynamic works wonderfully. Case in point, the scene where they are to be executed by Starr for their failures: both simultaneously nominate Hoover to be killed first, and after the gun jams Featherstone takes it apart, frees the jammed bullet and hands it back all while offering a better plan to kill Jesse and spare their lives. These scenes are the highlight of the episode, alongside the continuing development of Tulip’s PTSD, and her finally managing to sleep when Jesse uses The Word on her. Solid episode, looking forward to the next one given that Jesse and Starr finally met at the end of this one.

Episode 10: Dirty Little Secret

They rushed through the whole Messiah thing. Personally I found the cold open with Jesus conceiving a child to be a waste of time, as was the payoff later when said child’s mother is killed. The brief scene with the current descendent of Christ was pretty decent though; Jesse’s disbelief mixed with Herr Starr’s utterly deadpan response to the situation made for decent comedy. Herr Starr is easily the best addition this season, for both scene-to-scene comedy value and driving the plot forward with his scheme to make Jesse take God’s place. Only time will tell if he’ll share his comic counterpart’s status as fate’s own punching bag but either way, he’s gold. Tulip had a good look in this episode, spending more time with undercover Featherstone, an arc that’s clearly moving to a violent conclusion. The decision to focus on the Grail is an interesting one, though given the road trip format the season began with, and how rapidly the comic moved between locations and supporting characters I do think the show needs to move on, sooner rather than later. This season’s spent a long time in Denis’ house and not exploring New Orleans, which is a waste, and as I’ve said before Denis is the weak link in all this. Speaking of which, he’s continuing to be a vampiric pain in the arse who won’t listen to Cass, culminating in him draining someone off screen (presumably a sex worker given an earlier scene) by the end credits. I’m more than happy for him to die before this season is out, maybe alongside his house so the main trio can explore the potential scenes the country has to offer. For now it’s still a great show I’m enjoying a lot, but I have had to talk about a lot of the same things each week.

Episode 11: Backdoors

So we finally get to see that dark and troubled backstory I’ve been repeatedly mentioned, and it’s at best an incidental flashback connected to Herr Starr’s weak plan to get Jesse on-side. Said plan involves playing recordings of every prayer Jesse’s ever spoken. Jesse makes Starr shove the recordings up his arse. The backstory is that Jesse’s horrible Grandmother trapped him in a coffin at the bottom of a swamp, torturing him into declaring himself “Jesse L’Angelle” and not “Jesse Custer”. This is the most important part of the entire episode, and easily one of the most import at scenes in the entire series, and it’s not given any greater context than the brief references in previous episodes, which were aimed more at comic readers than general audiences. That’s all Jesse got to do really, apart  from have his friends be disappointed and fed up with him. Tulip goes off with undercover Featherstone to try and melt the Saint’s weapons, to no avail. Cass’ sole purpose this episode is to realise that maybe making his son into a vampire was a mistake, something that’s been completely obvious since it happened back in episode nine. Denis is still shite, Cass needs something interesting to do, and that’s about it. Ooh, except that Hitler and Eugene are fixin’ to escape, see? They feel like bustin’ loose, and Hitler’s worst memory is the last time he was a decent, albeit meek human being. The Hell side of things still doesn’t interest me all that much.

Episode 12: On Your Knees

This is the penultimate episode of the season, which means it’s time for things to pick up suddenly, after two rather weak episodes. The Saint is rescued by Hoover, and after knocking the shite out of Cass, Tulip and Denis begins to scalp Jesse, only being stopped just after he starts cutting. He’s back in Hell, which is a departure from the comic I feel doesn’t work that well, though granted I don’t know where his story will go from here. Elsewhere Eugene and Hitler’s escape plan is going well, with the cold open dedicated entirely to the former conquering his fears and hang-ups while inside his own personal hell. Tulip and Cass are finally fed up with Jesse’s whole lone wolf schtick, and the episode culminates in Jesse, without his two best friends in the world, accepting Herr Starr’s offered role of Messiah. This is an interesting development, and should the series follow through with it it’ll mark a major departure from the source material that I’m intrigued to see realised.

Episode 13 (Season Finale): End of the Road

Holy shit, speaking of departures from the source material… I’ll get to that though, because Jody and T.C are finally here, though only in the form of a hand pertruding from a truck window. I won’t go into them here, because they’re clearly going to be in Season 3, but suffice to say, they’re so wing of a big deal. Angelville and Jesse’s grandmother make an appearance too, here reimagined as a tourist attraction themed around resurrection and a normally aged old woman respectively. This is an odd turn, frankly, and while I can’t decide if I personally like it, I do believe it suits the universe presented in this adaptation. More importantly for now though; The Word’s stopped working, so Jesse’s got to fall back on his other main skill of kicking the shit out of people, in a return to this series’ staple of well-choreographed fights with a helping of goofy humour. Here it’s Jesse fighting four actors posing as terrorists set to “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, in front of a load of Nuns and Children who were promised the Messiah. It’s not quite the “Uptown Girl” fight from episode 4, but it’s still glorious. Elsewhere Cass realises he’s close to releasing his inner darkness, exacerbated by Denis, who’s become interested in the Children of Blood: the Anne Rice cosplaying, wannabe Vampire cult from the comics. Deciding that he’d rather be a reasonable person in control of his murderous urges, he finally does what I’ve been waiting for him to do for what seems like years: pushes Denis out into the sun, killing him. I cannot stress how relieved I was for this series to finally be rid of Denis, whose presence has been nothing but a nuisance since he arrived on screen way back in episode 3. Eugene and Hitler finally escape, bringing the Hell story arc to a merciful close, at least for now. Hitler, perhaps obviously, runs off and pushes over a disabled person as soon as he’s back on Earth, marking the only time I’ve ever seen Hitler have a heel-turn of all things. Certainly isn’t predictable, this show. It’s the ending that has me most excited though: after Tulip is shot and killed (and Jesse won’t let Cass vampirise her), Jesse and Cass drive her body down to Angelville, where it’s revealed (or at least heavily implied) that Jesse’s grandmother really can resurrect living things.

In Conclusion:

Preacher season 2 is, for the most part, good. It’s had some filler and barely used its setting, setting a whole lot of scenes in Denis’ house, but had enough gold to see it through. Tulip’s PTSD, Herr Starr, everything with The Saint and the continuation of the show’s dark, goofy humour made up for Denis, Cass’ lack of anything interesting to do and the less than stellar enacting of Starr’s messiah plan. The ending set up is fantastic, and I’m really looking forward to what Season 3 entails. The numerous changes to the source material across these two seasons have made it an excellent adaption worthy of the name, with enough new mixed in with the well-adapted familiar to keep me on my toes. Roll on Angelville, I can’t wait.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

 

Ia! Ia! Ego Fhatgn! : Why Guardians 2 is a cosmic horror story

SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2

 

 

So I watched Guardians 2, and was surprised with exactly what I was met with. I expected the jokes and shenanigans present in the film’s first act, in which Peter Quill and friends nick something important to the very people who hired them to kill a giant monster. What I wasn’t expecting was where the film went next, and how it would colour my view of the film as a whole once it has finished and I’d considered it at length. It’s my opinion that Guardians 2 is a horror film. Cosmic horror, specifically; the kind HP Lovecraft brought into popular culture, in which the gods are all aliens who either don’t give a shit about you or actively mean you harm.

At the centre of this is Kurt Russell’s Ego; Quill’s long lost and sought after Father; he tracks Quill and co down, and takes the majority of them back to “his” planet, only to reveal that he IS the planet. Now that’s not much of a surprise, his comic book counterpart IS called “Ego The Living Planet” after all. His backstory is that he suddenly came to be in space, and given how crushingly alone he felt, he decided to seek out life, happening upon Peter’s mother Meredith, with whom he fell in love. What a good bloke. Then it’s revealed that Ego’s desire to discover other life resulted in him realising he’s better off killing off all life on the universe, and replacing it with extensions of himself. Worse still, he has a room full of the skeletons of his children, whom he killed because they didn’t exhibit his powers. Quill is the first one to do so. So that’s his motivation in place, what about his methods? Well, he murdered Quill’s Mother with a brain tumour because his genuine love for her interrupted his plan, attacks the Guardians with tentacles and environment manipulation (given that he is the planet they’re standing on) and intends to use Peter as a thousand-year battery once his objections to Eho’s plan are made evident.

Guardians 2 has other sub plots, some of them inviting humour; Drax retains his entirely literal response to any and all stimuli, Rocket and Gamora haven’t changed as characters, Baby Groot is comic relief, and while Yondu has some genuinely emotional moments, he doesn’t have a large part in what I consider to be the film’s main plot: this is cosmic horror. The main villain in the first film was some dickhead with a hammer and a chip on his shoulder. The villain this time around is a SENTIENT PLANET THAT PLANS TO WIPE OUT ALL LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE. The only reason he’s defeated in the end is Quill, as his son, has the power to keep him busy while a bomb placed on Ego’s giant brain at the centre of the planet has time to go off. Even with his new found power Peter doesn’t and seemingly can’t defeat Ego; he outright states that he’s immortal at one point. So what if he killed Peter, or if they never met? At the start of the final battle Ego unleashes a sludge monster on the people of Earth, which seemingly no one can stop, with it only halting when Ego is finally killed. So Ego is an actual god (“small g, son” in his own words); a sentient planet that has the will and method to wipe out all life in the universe; a hateful, egotistical, cosmic monster that hates humanity. Pure Lovecraft. That why after watching the film the while cosmic horror angle is what sticks with me.

Also, to really hammer home the Lovecraft comparison: if Ego is a “a small g” god, what are the capital G Gods like? With the death of Ego, Peter Quill has lost his eldritch, elder-god powers, so who could possibly stand in their way?

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18

Nioh Review

I was wrong about Nioh, I’ll fully admit it. Playing the various alpha and beta tests released to the public for a limited time, it struck me as all the difficulty of Dark Souls with none of the creative design. Something to maybe pick up cheap later in the year, and certainly not something on par with the series it’s so clearly inspired by. Having finally finished it (main story and most of the side missions, but not the epilogue. At the time of writing I’ve just got to the epilogue’s boss), I feel like it’s something worth talking about, as not only a good Souls-clone (which as I’ll elaborate on is reductive in this case) but one of the best games I’ve played this year, and indeed for some time.

Very loosely based on historical events, Nioh tells the story of William, a real life English sailor who travelled to Japan and eventually became the first White, Western Samurai. In this game he’s an Irish Pirate who travels to Japan to rescue his “Guardian Spirit” (seen in the picture above) and ends up on one side of a real life Civil War going on in 1600, with an evil English sorcerer on the opposite side. At first the change in nationality irked me, given our limited representation in videogames, but given how skewed Nioh’s approach to history is it quickly stopped being a problem. The game is split into levels, with often brief cutscenes at the beginning and end in which William and one of his two new Japanese mates will meet with someone, with it really just acting as an excuse to navigate feudal Japanese locations hacking up Yokai (an umbrella term for the supernatural; in this case a variety of demons and monsters) before fighting a tough boss. The story itself is largely forgettable but as I said, it’s primarily there to frame the gameplay. The characters themselves are the stand-outs; particularly Hattori Hanzo, an expert Ninja who carries a cat around in his coat to use as a clock and endearingly speaks English to William with a thick Japanese accent, and Okatsu; a young female ninja who is ostensibly William’s love interest but acts more as her own agent with goals and feelings separate to him. Elsewhere Oda Nobunaga turns up because of course he does, and then there’s my personal favourite: Yaskue, “The Obsidian Samurai”- a real life African man freed from slavery by Nobunaga who then became the first Black Samurai. He only turns up for a boss fight, but he made the biggest impact on me.

On the gameplay side of things, it’s hard to avoid talking about the Dark Souls influence. Even lowly enemies can deal heavy damage, groups can be punishing and level-up currency must be retrieved from the spot you fell upon death. Shrines take the place of bonfires, clothing and armour all have weight that must be balanced efficiently and combat is easy to learn, difficult to master, especially given the precise timing involved. It is not, however, merely a Dark Souls clone. For my money Nioh plays like a mixture of Bloodborne and a character action game; developer Team Ninja previously worked on Ninja Gaiden and it shows. William is swift on his feet even in heavy armour (unless you go over the weight limit), blocking and dodging are mostly equally reliable, and each weapon can be used in three stances: low (fast, nimble, low damage), medium (good defence, moderate speed and damage) and high (slower, high damage but leaves you open). New skills can be learned, ranged weapons are an important part of your arsenal and you generally feel more capable and lethal, particualrly as the game goes on. Imagine a character from a character action game, like Devil May Cry or God of War filtered through a Dark Souls template and that’s basically what Nioh is: you’re an absolute badass, but getting clobbered with a Katana and/or a big demon’s fist hurts like hell. Enemy variety is somewhat lacking, but it builds up a sense of familiarity as you learn the best way to dispatch threats over the course of the game rather than constantly having to learn how to fight a whole new set of foes who blind side you and drain your health in two hits. The game largely avoids cheap deaths, too, which was a genuine and pleasant surprise. This is exemplified in the game’s stamina system; here called “Ki”, which depletes when hit by enemies (it’s technically your fighting spirit, not your actual stamina, so it does make sense). That might sound unfair, but enemies are affected in the exact same way, and a completely depleted Ki meter on you or your assailant allows for a high-damage finishing move type deal. Adding an extra layer to this is the “Ki pulse”, and I’ll just call it what it is: it’s a stamina Active Reload. Tapping R1 at the right moment not only speeds up Ki recovery but also purges the “Yokai Realm”- pocket dimensions created by enemies that boost their Ki and stop yours recovering. Add in the aforementioned Guardian Spirits that offer various stat bonuses “living weapon” modes in which you invincibly wail on an enemy for a limited time and you’re more than capable of tackling everything the game throws at you.

The game has its problems though. The most egregious is the occasional padding with recycled enemies; the final story level (not counting the epilogue) has seven bosses, and four of them are bosses already fought in previous levels. This isn’t so bad in side missions, but this was a mandatory fight required to finish the game. One of the bosses original to that level returns in the epilogue in the room before the final boss; this time there are three of them. In one room. They can kill you in two hits. While not as much of a problem the game doesn’t have the variety or detail in its environments and enemies that Dark Souls and Bloodborne do. It does have enough variety to get by but you better get used to feudal Japanese villages and caves. Despite largely averting cheap deaths it does have the occasional blindside, overpowered attack and dodgy hitbox, though these are often amplified by their infrequency.

Overal Nioh is a pleasant surprise. Initially I expected a Dark Souls clone set in Feudal Japan. What I got was a game that used Dark Souls as a framework and built on it with excellent results. The combat is engaging and satisfying, it feels like a fair challenge and arguably understands the importance of a player having fun more than Fromsoft’s games do. If you’re a fan of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, this is a good one to move on to. If you’re new to all this, I’d say this is a good place to start: the difficulty and measured approach of Dark Souls with the speed, violence and elaborate fighting of a character action game.

By James Lambert

@jameslambert18